Monday, December 31, 2007

Dec. 31, 2007

9:05pm. They've already started the countdown in Times Square, the sort of live-hosted Thanksgiving Day Parade-like event I just loathe. The sort of thing you might watch at a party with the sound turned down, but why bother? Put in a film.

My son is standing in front of me, trying to scooch his 4-year-old self up onto my lap because he is fascinated with writing as well as reading. He got hold of a video game based on a typing program -- the qwerty method, the only game going since the days of the manual typewriter, when you had to worry about keys sticking together: the letters are distributed across the keyboard in such a way that letters often typed together in common words would not have typewriter keys that were close together, physically; keys were therefore less likely to become tangled and jammed as the keys hit the paper. Anyway, he has memorized the audio instructions for typing, and recites the monologue as I type. It's cute, if odd.

I can't sit down at the laptop these days without him appearing out of nowhere. It's uncanny, or would be if the house weren't so small. More later.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Two more days...til Christmas is over.

I remember being a youngster in school, marking days off on the calendar until the Christmas vacation. It was exciting, excruciating, regardless of how vague my expectations of the actual event may have been. When school was out, it was time for fun.

Today I realized the count actually runs in the opposite direction. How many days left of vacation before I can go back to work? It's not that my job is more pleasurable than my family time, or my workplace more comfortable than home. No, it's just that we are driving each other MAD and the walls around our 950 square feet seem to be closing in.

I have to remind myself that out of the last ten days I've worked four; and only two days left before business as usual resumes. But there's been poor driving weather through long stretches of this, which means my husband won't leave the house. The first two days of vacation I was still getting over a bad cold. Weather deferred Christmas at the in-laws for one week, so the actual event was low-stress -- we had a friend over on Christmas Eve, we saw my family briefly on Christmas Day, and that was that. But even with work to break up the time, I'm still going absolutely bonkers. My son seems high-maintenance, my husband seems pesky, they both think I'm really crabby, they are both kind of crabby, they are both also very clingy (it seems) and I run around torn between irritation and shame. My husband and I have declared an indefinite moratorium on all sarcasm, snide humor, jokes that sound disparaging or anything else that's likely to be misconstrued. My son has been denied access to one or two really irritating computer games and toys -- irritating because he refuses to play with them on his own and would rather watch one of us do it. He has so many new things to do by way of Christmas gifts that he's decided to ignore them all in favor of demanding the same two or three tried-and-true activities over and over, and over, and over...The house has been cleaned, fixed on, dirtied up and cleaned some more several times.

I am out of patience. It's awful. But today, I was actually looking forward to the trip across town just for the sake of getting out of the house. husband almost passed out at the wheel while barreling down highway 94 heading for St. Paul. He had to change lanes rapidly to reach the closest exit, and we pulled off and parked near the Cathedral. His face was grey. He said he wasn't nauseous, just light-headed and breathless, but I noticed he wasn't really sweating. He wasn't complaining of any pains in his head or chest. and finally we decided it was a combination of hangover and low blood sugar. The thing is, he hasn't gone to the doctor once in the ten years since I married him. So we have no idea what his problems could in fact be. I gave him some grape juice that I'd brought for the kid, he rested a bit and we limped the rest of the way into Cottage Grove by avoiding as much freeway as we could. He wouldn't let me drive. He rested silently for an hour and a half after we arrived at the in-laws, but he ate plenty, and was just about normal after three hours. I let his mother nag him into allowing her to take his blood pressure, and it was high, as was his pulse rate. She wanted to test his sugar as well but he wouldn't let her. Once we were on the road and most of the way home, I quietly let him know that I think I've put up with the uncertainty of his health long enough. I'm willing to believe the explanations for today's episode were what they seemed -- but I told him he'd better start eating a damned breakfast bar or something before he drives, because he never eats breakfast at all. Drinks like a fish half the night, gets up and swills two cups of coffee, and he thinks his body is supposed to tolerate that at his age. I am through with that. If he's driving my son on the freeway each morning, I told him, he'd better start taking some steps.

A few days ago, Harper nearly choked twice and then struck his head on the corner of a table while goofing around. SO, I believe we should be done with all this for a while. I hope. When is it time to go back to work?

One more holiday, a non-holiday, to go. One more, two days. Lord give me strength.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

buzzing infinity

If you look closely at this image you'll see that the leaves on the lower-left side of the branch are actually the wings of a butterfly -- the Indian Leaf Butterfly, which can disguise itself as any number of leafy plants. (The body of the insect is parallel to the branch, and the wings are seen in profile.)

Whenever I see something like this -- and in the world of birds and insects, the diversity is astounding -- I feel a bit like channeling Annie Dillard: How could there not be a God, with such attention to beauty and function, such elegance in the design, and the sheer shameless audacity of the numbers of incredible variations on a theme? As an artist, I can honestly say that the only justification for such over-abundance, particularly among insects, would have to be the pure joy of creation itself. I think the many millions of individual insect and bird species known to us are proof enough of the infinite -- a bejeweled yardstick that spans the distance between our reach and our grasp.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

another echo from the past

Well -- I received an email from an old friend and mentor today, and it's no use wondering who gave her my address when it's such a small town. Her name has come up several times amongst colleagues in the past few months, so inevitable is she. But I'm glad -- I've been too chicken-hearted to look her up after several years' lapse, though her studio is just blocks from my office.

Georgette is one of those rare women who both inspire and intimidate me. She is much older than I, certainly much wiser, I've flitted in and out of her life while she patiently, deliberately and joyfully does her own thing. She is a warm person, and someone who always shows interest in the people around her. She has a wonderful feel for the natural world with its dual pragmatism and mystery. She is a very talented artist. She has beautiful eyes! Like pine trees and granite. And she is Jewish, which inexplicably has always made her better than me in my mind. (She'd shake her head at that though.)

When I think of all the women I've attached myself to in one way or another, over the years, Georgette stands out. Maybe because we've never had a major conflict -- my relationships with other older female 'mentors' haven't fared well generally -- and too she has enough of her own energy and direction that there could never be any competition between she and I. She'll always have the experience and the authority to tell me what she thinks. But she's genuinely in no need of power, and it's amazing that she respects or admires anything I've done.

She too, like those books I mentioned, offered me something I desperately needed. Around 1995 and 1996 -- that's when she and I had a formal relationship. She instructed me, in a sense, let me hang around in her studio and look at her work, her life, the objects that inspired her. She looked at my drawings and encouraged a new direction for me. I paid her for her time, something she was quite clear about and it was certainly an act of discipline for me to do it then, when I had zero cash. I left town and got married before the relationship could deepen in a mentoring sense -- but I did reconnect with her for a little while when I first came back. And now -- I almost wish she'd take me on again, though that's a time past, perhaps.

It's always awkward when I admit to needing someone's love and approval. I'm such an idiot. I'm still so much a dope when it comes to emotional give and take. I don't think of this because of Georgette, specifically -- haven't seen her in years after all -- but I find myself reminded (again and again) of how much tension I feel in being an adult and yet wishing for guidance and comfort. Maybe it comes from not having close parent/grandparent relationships, as an adult. I'm always uncomfortable with that part of myself. It's the same dynamic that makes it hard to accept compliments and praise from my peers, or people I should be thinking of as peers. I must have a strange idea of what "grown-up" means.

Kae earlier today thanked me for a note I wrote to she and Mark; it was a Christmas note, and in it I tried to thank them for all the wonderful things they've done in the past year, for the church and for me. It was heartfelt but brief, and Kae said this morning that she read it at exactly the right time -- she evidently felt really down, or tired, or a little hopeless -- and she said it brought tears to her eyes. Wow. Kae is also one of those women whom I find inspiring, though not as intimidating, and to do anything for her that makes a difference in her life is a huge thing. HUGE. Because she has never failed in her kindness, or her wit, or her intelligence, and I can only aspire to that. Though it must be exhausting sometimes. And she describes Craig as "a small God." Where do I get off working for these people?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

plumber's lobby

I did my economic duty today and spent money both online and up at Menards. Snow rake, desk lamp, compact fluor bulbs, socks on sale for the church collection, new rubber floor mat for the back door area, etc. Plus craft supplies from JoAnne, to be shipped at a later date. And a mess of plumbing fixes for the kitchen which don't appear to be quite right and will have to be exchanged. Until then we have to crawl under the sink to turn on the hot water -- an annoying problem of faucet control that morphed into an entirely non-functional valve when someone started messing with it. But that's home-ownership. Learn everything the hard way, or pay through the nose for a plumber. Those guys must make sweet campaign contributions -- they earn a fortune, and you never hear of any legislation that adversely affects plumbers. Or makes it cheaper to hire one. Clever. I wonder what secret rites must be performed to exact specifications before one is allowed among the brethren?

It's also a two-bonkey day today. Which means that first my son tried to choke on his lunch by running around like a lunatic with a mouthful of meatball, and wound up scaring himself enough that lunch was abandoned entirely. Then, he's been rocking his little chair back on its legs as he sits at his computer -- he tips backward onto the bed, then rocks back up into position by throwing his weight forward. I warned him that this might lead to trouble, but the kid is 4 -- so now he has a bump on his head. He played computer for another half hour afterward and went right back to chair-rocking. This I suppose is what it means to raise a boy.

I'm sort of looking forward to work tomorrow. My husband has the vacation-time itches, all busy around the house with a million little projects, talking a mile a minute. It's productive, but ennervating. I just want to chill.

Happy Christmas

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

It's silly to sit up til midnight as though it were New Year's Eve, as though this foggy, polluted inversion of a sky would part to yield up the Star and what's left of last night's full moon (on the breast of the new-fallen snow). I found myself wishing last night had been Christmas Eve, so clear the sky and so bright. And wishing tonight that ten o'clock worship could have lasted straight through, in a darkened sanctuary with lit candles. Midnight mass somewhere -- I'm supposed to be able to conjure up the mass in my heart, but I still need the props I guess. So I'll settle for sitting here at the ol' confessional, in my bathrobe with the snowflakes and the snowmen on it, until ten more minutes have elapsed.
Father in heaven.
My son and husband are asleep. My husband and I got into a fight today, the first real one in a little while, about a point of parenting. I've been too impatient the past few days, for which it's been easy to find excuses, though no good reasons really. He in turn has been very sensitive and weepy, one of those moods where he seems to retain no memory of his words or his actions, only mine. This afternoon, when he used the fact that it's Christmas to indicate that I was being especially awful, I really snapped -- "All Christmas means to you is presents," I said, "and the two of us are supposed to spend the next 24 hours pretending to agree on something when we obviously don't, this parenting issue." What makes your Christmas so special? I found myself thinking. What makes it a sacred space in which your word is the law? Good attitude, I know.

It's midnight by my computer. "Silent night, Holy Night..." My son just made a small noise, in his bed, and it seemed kneeling there like a good time to reflect, and give thanks for many things, many people, especially my husband and son.

I wonder if Mary and Joseph had fights about the rearing of Jesus. I wonder if he carried a little grudge in his heart against his wife -- for all the manly prideful reasons a grudge might form. I wonder how long he waited before they conceived their next child, before he asserted his place as the husband. When the fight reached its peak, I went into the kitchen and cried, and prayed. I know I'm doing this wrong. I know I'm handling this the wrong way. I apologized later but it didn't do much good. He only apologizes to me rarely. The only way I can tell he feels guilty is by how disproportionately angry he gets over the issue. If it's really out of whack, that means he's not sure at all that he's right. He's angry and I'm unrelenting. Classic male/female bullshit.
Father in heaven, teach us to be still.
Teach us to do what's best for the child, together.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

1987 to 1994

"The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard."Katha-Upanishad.

I lay in bed this afternoon with a bad cold and I thought about it: “The Razor’s Edge” by Somerset Maugham, “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton, and the whole question of “what if.” What if I had never read those two books – would I have married my husband? Would I have taken that job down at the Falls? Who would I be today?

In 1987, the year I graduated from high school, I ended an affair with a married man: my high school art teacher. He was 35 years my senior, and I suspect he’d been sleeping with students for years. This was the same year my parents spent my entire $10,000 in college savings on I know not what (without asking); the year my father’s mother died in a south Minneapolis hotel room; and the year I met the man I thought I was destined to love forever.

In spring of 1994, the year my sister should have graduated high school, she went to the emergency room at North Memorial with a fever and a headache and did not emerge for seven weeks. The man I was supposed to marry drove to Iowa and celebrated his wedding in grand style, with another woman. I quit art school to take a job in marketing and public relations, and three months later found myself living in a truly squalid Dinkytown rooming house, on the verge of bankruptcy. My boyfriend was a writer from Chicago with a B&D fixation, and for lack of ideas I was back at the University.

Over the years in between, I met the man who (years later) turned out to be my spouse, though we never really dated. My three remaining grandparents died, one by one in rapid succession. I expressed my grief over these and other losses by pissing away close to $15,000 in student loan money: I drank, I partied, I dressed very well and blacked out days and days of memory. My health completely deteriorated and in 1992 I had a brush with suicide. I also put in close to 10,000 hours of volunteer service to the community, which in retrospect might be what really kept me alive.

I read my future husband’s copy of “The Razor’s Edge” in 1993. In 1995 I read “The Age of Innocence,” given to me by the man I loved more than anything else on earth, shortly before he celebrated his first wedding anniversary. Maugham’s well-known novel takes reference from the great cultural disillusionments of World War I and the stock market crash of 1929. “The Age of Innocence” won a Pullitzer in 1921 for its depiction of a fading New York aristocracy at the turn of the century. Both books address material versus spiritual wealth, and eros versus agape – books given to me at an incredibly difficult point in my life by two very different people, both of whom said they loved me. In ’93, Ron left for three years of service in the Peace Corps; in ’95 I was told Carl’s wife was expecting their first child, and like Wharton’s protagonist Ellen I knew it was time to cut myself off for good from Carl and the hope that Fate would somehow intervene in my favor.

The moment came in 1992– standing in front of a dish-rack full of knives with a roaring void at my back. I was hallucinating: the white-noise sound of oblivion and the rumbling of floorboards slipping like tectonic plates and crumbling beneath my feet. I could see it happening, could see the knives gleaming in the rack like answered prayers that promised relief. I’d been writing a letter, begging some guy (there’d been a number of them) to reconsider. And I’d just done too much by this time – I had no sense of self, no dignity or self-preservation, just the propped-up fa├žade of someone who’d been lucky enough to get a few good gigs and was adept at throwing money around. Backed up against a wall of grief, between therapists at the time. So I don’t quite know why I didn’t finish the job. Maybe because the person I thought to call turned out to be suicidal himself some 10 years later, and it was my task to return the favor, the held hand and the safe couch to sleep on. Maybe I chickened out, running from that final answer the way I’d run from all the answers to questions of What If and Why.

I had no public faith in God. I was living at that time in an apartment over a liquor store in Northeast Minneapolis, the sixth of ten apartments (over seven years.) I had never stopped running – my high school graduation ceremony was the starting gun. But the winter of 1992 was the desert in which I’d got lost, and once I knew I didn’t want to die, I had to learn how to live. I had to wake up. By the time my sister went into an encephalitic coma, losing eight days of her memory to steroids and ice packs that reduced the deadly fever, I knew something I hadn’t before – in part because I’d read two books.
There is a third part to this piece that is still being edited. Stay tuned if interested.

Friday, December 21, 2007

what if

"But it is the mystery of life that sustains me now. And I look to the North and I wish again that there were two lives apportioned to every man, and every woman."
-- Pat Conroy

I have a friend who has entered into a dialogue with "What if?"
What if I had chosen a different profession. What if I had never married, or started a family. What if I had moved instead to another city? Who would I be, and what would my life be like now?
In the midst of some quick Google research the other day, my friend commented to the effect that "I need a lifetime off to learn all the stuff I don't know."

It was harder than I anticipated to find the Conroy quote printed above, and having finally found it I realize it doesn't encapsulate the idea as neatly as I thought -- the "what if" line of introspection has been a source of literary inspiration since the form existed, I suspect, and surely the mid-life crisis (whether real or imagined) has become an American cliche. But "what if" doesn't merely spring from a predictable confluence of age and circumstance. At the other end of the spectrum, it's philosophy itself, it's metaphysics, it's religion, it's every decent form of inquiry. What if what we see before us is not all there is?

In Conroy's novel "The Prince of Tides" (made into a truly schmaltzy film that shouldn't drive anyone away from the reading), the character of the narrator has an extramarital affair with his twin sister's psychotherapist. That's a distracting enough thought -- but the affair is just the vehicle for the narrator's mid-life-crisis attempt to save his own identity from the ruins of his past. His transformation ultimately leads him back to his family, into reconciliation with the past.
It's an easy enough choice superficially -- the character of the therapist isn't written with much more than symbolic allure -- and the affair isn't itself what brings the narrator around. But the whole novel is in some sense an example of how the "what if" question can both drive us to distraction and also bring us to heights of insight. Though the book shouldn't be read with that in mind, I'm interpreting though another veil of experience as well. In my experience, "mid-life" or "early mid-life" are just annoying phrases that popularize our tendency to doubt -- and to inquire -- and to use that mode of inquiry to make all sorts of wrong choices. Or right ones. Look at "The Razor's Edge" by Somerset Maugham, or "The Age of Innocence" by Wharton. Books I got married by, books I later made big mistakes by, in a sense. Because of asking "what if," things have happened in my life. When I stop asking, it's because I'm trying not to let anything happen -- I don't want to be tested.

Two lives apportioned to every man and woman -- it wouldn't be enough, of course, since the world wasn't made so simply as that. Even reincarnation doesn't guarantee enlightenment. And if asking "what if" isn't about finding the answer, what then is it about?

I told myself the last time I really struggled with it -- it's about living life as robustly and earnestly as possible, within the limits of what is decent and moral and just. It's about accepting that there is one life only, and really reaching every moment to grasp as much of it as one can. I suppose Conroy's novel comes to mind for me because nowhere have I chaffed more against the limits of what's possible than in the area of love. That's maybe my chief ignorance, and the subject I've bent myself to now as seriously as I can -- figuring out how many ways there are to love one another, without endangering love itself in the process. What if what we see is not all there is? What is the essential nature of "something more" and how can we perceive it without always being driven to possess it? It's not just about romantic love, eros, or a limiting of inquiry to the souls of men. But I suspect love is the balm on the wound of the unanswered question, if nothing else.

What if, what if. There's only two places to look for the answer: inside, and outside.


Every Friday I participate in an interesting ritual.

Each week at around 4pm, Tadessa comes to clean the sanctuary and the chapel. Tadessa is a five-foot-tall Ethiopian aged about 60 years, who looks much more Eurasian to me than the typical African: he has fine bones and features, and eyes that crinkle sweetly until his pupils are barely visible. He is a member of the Oromo Seventh Day Adventist Church, and cleans certain parts of the building in preparation for their Saturday services. He vacuums and empties trash, wipes down a few surfaces and generally bustles around for about an hour. And most of the time, he lingers until my boss and whoever else is around will have gone. When it’s just he and I, he puts away his broom and comes to call.

First he greets me warmly through the window of my office, smiling and gesticulating from the other side of the glass. He raises his eyebrows, gesturing in a friendly and animated way, indicating he’s coming in. Then he sort of dances through the door, trying I think to be friendly but respectful at the same time, maybe a little comical as well. He grasps my hands warmly in his brown, long-fingered hands, and squeezes hard; he bows slightly, repeatedly, nodding and being as charming as an old guy can be. He often has a plastic shopping bag, from which he will extract one can of soda – Mountain Dew for a long time, but lately he’s switched to Pepsi. He offers me the can, which I gratefully accept. During this exchange we do a lot more nodding and smiling, because Tadessa speaks almost no English at all. He lets me know that it’s visiting time: “Always I am coming, coming; and I missing my sister. Here? You here? Oh, good!” What he says after that is anyone’s guess – but I get the picture. He’s glad to see me. He recognizes that I am busy (usually I’m trying to finish the bookkeeping by five.) He’s busy too, cleaning. I chat with him in the normal way, though he might only understand a quarter of it. I learned a while back that it’s better just to be yourself and go with the flow than to overcompensate for the language barrier.

“You fine?” he asks, “I fine, yes” he responds to the unasked question. He talks quickly, in a high-pitched chirpy sort of voice that I think he uses on me rather deliberately. And he’s very emphatic, in the way one must be when one doesn’t speak the language. After the initial greeting and the offering of the soda, with compliments (“my beautiful sister!”) Tadessa might bow out for a few moments to finish straightening up. Then he’s back. We chat a little more – once we talked about his family and the length of time he’s been in America, apart from his wife. “Five year. My wife, very sad I no see her.” He brought in pictures of his wife, his sons and their wives, and his Americorps English teachers. He has a tiny brag book filled with chronologically ordered photos. His unsmiling wife is posed in front of a small house with a beautiful garden. “Ethiopia,” says Tadessa. Mrs. Tadessa is a plump woman of medium build, his height, and wears a wrap upon her head.

Most Fridays we only chat a short while; then we move on to the next stage, which is hug-n-kiss. I used to stand up for this but grew uncomfortable after a while with the fact that he comes up to my chin, and therefore gets a face-full of bosom when he swoops in for the embrace. So now I mainly stay seated, and half-rise when he spreads his arms wide and lunges. He wraps his arms around me and angles in under my ear to smooch on my neck. He likes a long neck on a woman, I suspect. He always manages to pull this off without seeming genuinely predatory – just a touch more grandpa than dirty-old-man. Very occasionally he’ll indulge himself by doing this a few times in rapid succession. I sometimes wonder how close he’s come to giving me a hicky.

And after all this, we pray. Tadessa gets down on his knees by the door, gesturing for me to join him. He takes my hand, or rests his hand on my shoulder as I kneel beside him. And then: “Jesus, come! Always I pray you coming. My sister; my sister family, my sister husband, I pray. Jesus come! I love you, Jesus, come! You come!! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.” Tadessa prays fervently and with great intensity. I’ve heard him lead group prayer on Saturdays in the chapel: wherein he is much more solemn, even commanding, and his fluent Oromo is smooth and musical.

Then it’s my turn, to pray for Tadessa, for his family and his congregation. After the Amens we shake hands one more time, maybe with an additional hug, and he takes his leave. “Next week I come.” He says. “Bye bye!” He bows and smiles, puts on his giant parka and hurries away.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Forget Me

"Instead of worrying about my clothes/I could be somebody that no one knows."

There's a link underneath the login field on the MSN homepage that says "Forget Me." I love that link, I'm always tempted to click it. Forget me -- forget what I said, forget what I did, forget my face and the sound of my voice. I used to be slightly obsessed with the film "Memento," mainly because it seemed morbidly appealing to wake up each day in an anonymous state. No past, no guilt, no responsibility, no shame. No weighty self-judgements. No links to the past. I think that's what I like about hotel rooms as well. Anonymous. I sleep really well in hotels.

Of course, in light of the present that would be awful, as a reality. I'm not asking for it. What do I have to complain about? Nothing.

I'm having one of those days when I pray for a brain that is quiet, and pray that I can just keep my mouth shut between now and when I finally get to bed. I'm just tired of me. Not of my life. It's not a big deal.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Intelligent Discourse? Not Really.

My husband mentioned this morning that Normandale Community College had made Minnesota Public Radio, and the front page of the Star Tribune. Hey, that's big news, right? Think again.

The subject of this "news" isn't so much Normandale as Katherine Kersten's conservative blow-hard blog "Think Again," which recently featured a brief sort-of-journalistic article about the meditation room at Normandale. That room, a temporary space, is primarily being used by the school's large population of Muslim students who observe traditional prayer practices: five times per day, after washing one's feet, in separate areas for men and women. Kersten "checked it out" on a "tip" and was deeply offended by what she found. Muslims praying in a public education institution! Muslims leaving their Muslim literature for other Muslims in the prayer room! Rumors of conflicts over use of the room between Muslims and non-Muslims! Shocking.

Never mind the fact that the 30-something Kersten undoubtedly spent her youth in the classroom standing to pledge allegiance to the flag each morning, a citizen of "one nation under God." So did I.

The conservative blog Powerline picked this up, as did a few other issues blogs (including the Lake Minnetonka Liberty, for crying out loud), mainly reprinting the article while inserting occasional opinion commentary between the copyright paragraphs. Meanwhile, Kersten's Star Tribune blog attracted hundreds of comments, and the ensuing dialogue devolved into "conservatives" and "liberals" slinging insults at each other from opposite sides of the Internet security blanket. The new president of the college wrote a letter attempting to temporize, but not before a fair amount of attention was paid to the blog feeding frenzy.

Interestingly, both the Strib blog and the MPR commentary are much harder to find via Google, some 24 hours later, than are the many non-news-media reprintings of the Powerline reprinting of the original blog article (with accompanying inserted comments.) From the opinions of one paid blogger, a cheap but primary source, to the entirely inelegant commentaries of tertiary bloggers who rip the article and post it on their own sites to boost the perceived content. This is news, folks.

Given that my husband teaches at Normandale, I don't enjoy the same liberty as Kersten to comment with any depth on the content of Kersten's original report: blogs have a disheartening way of biting you in the ass at inopportune times. But I can honestly say I'm disappointed in Katherine Kersten, as a published writer; and in the Star Tribune for treating this muckraking blip on the local radar as an opportunity to boost readership for a few hours, and nothing more. Why not give the issue real journalistic attention, if it deserves that; and if not, why pay writers like Kersten to stir the local shitstorm? The issues immediately become obscured by a thick coating of foul-smelling diatribe.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Who is today's candidate for the National Guilty Party? The nomination goes to...The Landlord. I actually have two friends right now who are being evicted or under threat of imminent eviction. Both have jobs, serve the community generously, take care of others without thought of recompense, don't shoot drugs and are generally the kind of women you'd like to have as friends. One of them is raising two teenage girls single-handedly: Neither of whom is pregnant, or a dope pusher, or a destructive rebel. These are the people The Landlord chooses to evict right before Christmas.

One friend is forced to move because a neighboring renter claims too many non-resident teens trespass on apartment property to "visit" her daughters (who are not the only girls in the building) -- The other is under threat because she has gotten two months behind on rent -- and after sending in a double payment, she gets eviction paper, which The Landlord claims are "just an error" (the threat has been in the air for a few weeks.) Both have lived in their apartments a long time, which means that rents on the apartments have not risen as fast as The Landlord might have liked. By evicting the tenants, The Landlord creates an opportunity to get more money for the rental unit. In general, both friends have been good tenants. The one being evicted for having teenagers has never paid her rent late, not once.

She said that when she first moved in, she heard a single mother with an infant was evicted from the building that Christmas Eve. No room at the inn.

Winter hardens the hearts of the wealthy.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Franklin Avenue revisited

Father in Heaven.
Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to be still.
Paraphrasing T.S. Eliot's "Ash Wednesday" is a common practice, but in his pleading with God for peace, and for answers, he got it exactly right. At this time of the morning, I find myself laying on the couch wishing for both, though prayer sometimes eludes me.
Maybe that's because I feel too guilty about the other things I want -- or because I'm tired of hearing myself asking for the same assurances again and again.
It's easy to get inspired, to write for the church about fear and hope and how we have to rely on one another, look out for one another. It doesn't always carry through to midnight, that inspiration. Teach us to be still.

Again and again my thoughts return to today's trip over the river and back, over to the old neighborhood and back, across two bridges and a lot of history -- the city's history and the personal kind. I wonder how far I've come, and if it's far enough, or if it's too far away from where I was or where I'm called to be.

Sooner or later, water runs downhill. I told Craig today that mentally I'm never far from the riverfront, from that landscape. He asked if the bridges I took note of and rambled about were a metaphor for other relationships in the church, and I said Isn't everything really just a metaphor for everything else, if you think about it long enough? I'm not sure where I gathered that unoriginal thought and he wasn't impressed either -- worse, I've probably said it before.

In this case, there may not have been a point, had I even looked for one. How many metaphors are embodied by a bridge? Hundreds of thousands, I imagine. Just look at the word "pontiff" for example, a nice churchy word. It comes from the Latin, pont -- the bridge.
"The term derives from the French word pontife, from the Latin pontifex, a title used for high priests of the Roman Empire. The word pontifex is commonly held to derive from the Latin root words pons, "bridge" + facere, "to do" or "to make", with a literal meaning of "bridge-builder". This, however, is disputed - it may be only a folk etymology [1]. See Pontifex for more details on the original Roman term."

Leaving aside "folk etymology" for the moment, it's a common reference. Teach us to care.

Sometimes I wonder if the landscape of my life is just so small a patch that it doubles in on itself naturally and seems to become profound, for lack of genuine perspective -- or if it contains within it all that it is center of, truly. In which case, what is Franklin Avenue, or the collapsed 35W bridge, trying to tell me?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Franklin Ave

There's no telling.
How much coffee can I drink?
When you're drinking coffee, you just want more. Wheee!
Now I'm drinking wine, because of all the coffee. What a life. I'm a substance-abuser.

Went to south Minneapolis today, the Phillips neighborhood, to Maria's for plantain pancake and American fries. And coffee! Maria's, a bastion of the Franklin Ave area that didn't exist when I lived in Phillips. I saw my old house on 10th and 19th (Brady has his lights strung up for the holidays); and Craig asked if Cathie hadn't lived with me as well (so I pointed in the direction of her old place on 10th.) Craig in turn indicated the stretch of Franklin where he used to take a walk, on his breaks from the Social Security office over on Chicago. No doubt all three of our paths crossed, from time to time. Now we all live in Northeast; and we have met, and work together, and we reference (all three of us) our time observing life off Franklin Avenue.

Three white people.
What an odd assortment we would have been in the Franklin Avenue days.
My only interest in the boss would have been, shall we say, acquisitive. And what about Cathie? Craig would have been somewhere in the early stages of a marriage. Then Cathie had her car accident, I got married and became miserable for a time, and Craig got divorced. All transition, no solid lifestyle.

I don't think much about the past in this way. I don't regret, or wonder. I tend to feel strongly that I only have this one life, and this is now, and all there is. But I wish we had all three known each other concurrently anyway, if only because I care so much for them both. It might have been fun.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Monday, December 10, 2007

December 10

Today is the four-year anniversary of the death of my father, from a massive aneurysm that stopped his heart and sent his spirit into the sweet hereafter.
This in a sense is what's true. In fact, he was found semiconscious in the toilet, by his wife. His heart stopped in the ambulance, and though he was resuscitated, he never regained consciousness. About 36 hours after the event, a team of doctors and nurses stopped his heart for good, so that the organs he was to donate could be removed in a state of viability. Exactly one week earlier he had a birthday. I thank God I remembered to send him a card that year. It was to be our last official contact.
Unofficially, I've seen him once or twice since he died.
I marked the anniversary this evening by baking a cake with my son, knocking back a couple of weak drinks and watching a film by my friend Dean called "Dropped On My Head." It's the story of the head injury he sustained ten years ago while shooting a television commercial. It seemed somehow appropos, to consider someone else's trauma -- something survived.
We decided after several consultations with a neurologist at Mercy Hospital that it would be better if my father did not continue with artificial life support. Their pastor was present; their children and grandchildren, all strangers to me due to the many long years of estrangement. I was at a distinct disadvantage and felt grateful at the time that we were all on the same page: the question of what was to be done.
Artifical life support. Because, if it had continued, he would have been living an artificial life. The doctors were doubtful that he could regain consciousness, more doubtful still that any semblance of personality or self-sufficiency would be apparent if he did. All of this might have been no help to me had I not seen him in intensive care -- hooked up to myriad tubes, a breathing machine, with his upper body elevated and his legs in pressurized cuffs. He looked small, a lifeless puppet, beyond consciousness. He looked as though he had already left. No longer a robust Germanic frame over six feet tall and always a little heavy -- he seemed less than half his normal mass. Emptied.
The 2am phone call and the cab ride out to Mercy in heavy snowfall had been a hellish time. My infant son was two months old, and I knew I could not bring him to the hospital with me -- the idea of bringing a healthy baby into a hospital seemed foolhardy. My husband had launched himself directly into a state of extreme denial when we got the call -- he was refusing to get out of bed, saying he intended to go to work that day and needed his sleep. So I'd had to phone my mother, my father's ex-wife with the news as well as the need for her to come over and watch the baby. This too was horrible, to bring this information to my mother -- I'd had to do it when her father died as well, when I was sixteen -- and I knew she still loved my father. I also knew she'd never go to the hospital, because that's how she is. But my stepfather had to drive her over to our place, and he took the opportunity to point out to me in my kitchen what an asshole my husband apparently could be. I remember I had to leave the kitchen for a moment, to gain the wherewithall to tell him simply that the timing of his critique was extremely poor. He felt very badly for Mom, felt she shouldn't have to babysit at a time like that, and of course he was right -- but the only alternative was for me to fail to attend my dying father's bedside. In this I was completely alone. Being alone was what made it truly hellish. I knew that when I got to the hospital, the only people I would see were my father's wife, a woman who had refused to let me into her house for more than 20 years; and the children they raised, who never knew me.
I can't remember ever feeling more alone.
So, the hours passed.
The medical information was processed and a tentative decision reached before I left the hospital three hours later, to return home to breastfeed my son. Later I received a phone message from my stepmother telling me that she and her children had said their last goodbyes, and that the time had been set. She asked when I spoke to her if I would be visiting with him one last time, and I said no. I don't think I explained myself, but it was because I knew he was already gone; and I couldn't face the mechanics of another trip out there. I knew some of his organs would be recovered, though I had to get the details from the intensive care nurse ultimately. A good friend who happens to work in the transplant business was able to tell me how and when his lungs and kidneys had been placed with the living. So a part of him lives still, somewhere, sustaining someone else's life. My father had not specified in any will or instrument that he would be a donor; again, it was a decision his survivors made by consensus, without effort, when we were asked. In retrospect the whole thing went very quickly.
I fear the ring of a telephone in the night.
Bad news travels a crooked path and always has. I'm as likely to be the bearer of it as to hear it from someone unexpected. When my mother's mother passed, six years or so behind her husband, it fell to me to call my mom's ten brothers and sisters with the news. When my sister was hospitalized with encephalitis at age 18, I don't know who made the call; when my father died I think it was his oldest son, phoning from the airport in Bloomington Indiana, who got through after my husband hung up on the hospital chaplain.
But everyone fears the phonecall in the night, once you've had one, so that's not news.
He came to me in a dream, my father, several months after he died.
He came as they do looking fit and 30-ish, at his peak of health and good looks maybe. He came without glasses, in brown slacks, a white button-down shirt and a brown vest. Maybe a tie. My father was a small business accountant and always dressed for work.
He walked toward me where I sat at the edge of a bed, out of a vague distance where clusters of people stood and talked as though at a party or gathering; he was smiling but calm, and silent. He spoke to me; he bent down and spoke to me, though I cannot recall the sight of his lips moving or the sound of his words. I cannot recall what he said to me, and could not when I awoke, though the memory of my response to his words stays with me. When he had said what he needed to say, he walked on -- he could not linger. In the continuing distance beyond me somewhere I knew his wife and children grieved and he had to comfort them as well. I remember he smiled again, a calm smile full of seriousness and meaning. And I felt like his daughter, felt my love for him and my desire to please him, and that was all.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

perchance to dream

Every so often I watch the film "JFK" as a kind of succinct reminder -- of the nature of the country we live in, the character of our leaders and the flaws in our system of government. It's a frightning film, due to its very plausibility. A conspiracy among the power elite, to bring down an American President whose interests run counter to their own. A successful coup d'etat that ensures the primacy of the elite, of their families and their empires, for years to come.

In the film, New Orleans Disctrict Attorney Jim Garrison is working to bring the first and only trial in the murder of President John Kennedy. In the course of his investigation Martin Luther King is assassinated; when Robert Kennedy campaigns for the Presidency, Garrison predicts the candidate's assassination and is proven right the same night. "It's not over yet." He tells his wife. It's still happening.

I was born in 1968, and in the 39 years since the character of our country has remained essentially the same. Certainly our economics and our cultural demographics have shifted, but it takes more than a generation to disturb the marble pillars of the military and the ruling elite. Look at W -- how could the assassins of Kennedy's vision for peace have greater vindication?George W. Bush, a generational beneficiary of all that money and power provide in this country, and all that they prevent.

Like children waking briefly from a nightmare, our parents chose in the end to switch off their televisons, roll over and go back to sleep; refusing to acknowledge the presence of the monster in the very room. We are left to unearth what they have chosen to forget -- not a crime, but a dream -- a vision for a better society.

We have only the Supreme Court to stand between the citizenry and open dictatorship. And them not even consistently. Accountability no longer exists in the Executive Branch. "But are not all men grass? And the grass withers, the flower fades." Sooner or later, we will pass forward into deeper understanding of our responsibilities as citizens.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Inherent Contempt

Well, you learn something new every day. According to today's New York Times, Congress has the power to enforce subpoenas by jailing those who refuse to acknowledge them, including those claiming "executive privilege" over information held by the Executive Branch. How nice.

Clearly, given the responsibility to uphold the laws of the land and to investigate potential malfeasance, Congress should also have the right to flip off the Justice Department when it rolls over in favor of Executive duplicity.

As the article points out, it's a power equally vulnerable to abuse -- "all power corrupts" doncha know -- but given this administration's long history of claiming national security or executive privilege every five minutes as part of a blatant mandate to avoid all semblance of accountability, I'd say Go For It fellas. I'm sure the facilities in the Congressional Lock-up are a damn site better than Guantanamo, but given their age, I suspect a few days over the weekend would cause one or two Bush henchmen to reconsider.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

At last....

"my love has come lonely days are over...and life is like a song."
OK, maybe that's a little too heavy for this occasion.
My project desk is installed in my sewing room and all the other areas cleaned up/reorganized -- It's a whole new studio! With room for all my sewing and craft supplies, most of my clothing, many of my books, a ton of gewgaws, shoes, pictures, etc...All in a tiny 10x12 foot space with two entrances. I am now SUPERorganized! Except for the big pile of ironing and mending near the kitchen door. Oh well. I love knowing where everything IS.
It's very sexy, my sewing room. It's the inner sanctum. I feel so capable! I wish I could just conduct all my business from this location. Like that dumb phone commercial -- I'm in JENSROOMICAGOWAII.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

in my travels...

Seen from below, this fire escape reminds me of sheet music -- bars without notes, empty.
Pigeons perch above this fire escape and poop down upon the bus bench beneath it. Consequently folks rarely sit there. Pigeons do their business off the edge of the roof the same way people use toilets I suppose -- out of sight, out of mind. There's a happy thought.
Hope I sleep tonight.